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July 2014

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The Haymow Monster

Written by , Posted in Short Stories, The Farm

Kenview Farms

“When you go to the barn, I want you to go up into the hayloft and get me some straw. I want three bales of straw on the north side of the barn and two on the south side. You can put a bale of hay from the first mow down the stairs as well.”

Patrick’s heart sank as he stared at his father, a cigar hanging out of the man’s mouth like he’d be chewing on it for hours. The man spoke with finality. He couldn’t shirk his duties tonight, slithering off to watch television or play with his toys. The straw was an obstacle he could overcome, running fast enough that he’d be done before he could think about where he was. The first mow however, was the furthest from the stairs and the lone light bulb hanging over the cavernous chamber. I hate the first mow.

Patrick’s father pulled the stuffy cigar from his mouth, licking the tip before he said, “Hurry now. I need that straw in five minutes when I come down.”

Resigned to his fate, Patrick took a deep breath and pulled the zipper up on his jacket. It wasn’t winter yet, but the cold chill coursing through his body made him shiver. He turned away from the light of the kitchen, opening the door and passed through the pantry into the darkness beyond. I’ll be ok. Everything’s fine.

With quick steps, Patrick lunged off the step and onto the wet grass, his heels slipping until he could find purchase. He steadied himself and rushed down the slope and across the muddy track to the white building. His heart raced as Patrick flung himself into the door and lifted the latch to gain entrance to the noisy room.

Patrick clenched his teeth as he turned and slammed the large steel door shut before leaning his head back against the cold surface. Maybe no one noticed, he thought as he peered around the milk tank to see if anyone was watching. From there, Patrick padded softly passed the blaring motor and large tank filled with milk. He didn’t stop to lift the lid to look inside, but he could smell the aroma of the white liquid that would be shipped to the distributor early the next morning.

The noise softened as soon as Patrick pushed through the swinging door into the main barn. As he crossed the threshold, he pulled his coat zipper down and yanked his toque from his head. He searched for almost a minute before he found the litter of kittens hidden behind several boxes in the corner. Taking great care to choose the same one that he’d held for the last ten nights, the boy grabbed a kitten and stroked its back gently. You’re cute buddy.

Setting the blind animal down again, Patrick took another deep breath and began to creep closer to the wooden steps that lead to the second floor of the old barn. As he came ever closer, he heard his mother coaxing one of the cows behind him. He turned and waived, saying, “Hello.”

“Hello Patrick,” she said smiling as she spoke to the large cow beside her. “Don’t forget to get that bale of hay. I need it to feed the calves in the other barn.”

Patrick nodded emphatically and turned back to his quest. “It won’t take long,” he told himself working up the nerve.

With one shaking foot placed in front of the other, Patrick stepped onto the rickety stairs. He threw a fleeting glance back at the milk house door where he knew his father would soon be entering. I can do this.

With all the strength he could muster, Patrick took another tentative step and finally moved up so he could brace the wooden door on his back. A chill wind filtered through the cracks in wisps as Patrick lifted the wooden door and managed to find the block of wood to keep it latched. Retreating several steps, Patrick took a good look around, remembering what it felt like to be in the light before he ventured into the mow.

The floor, littered as it usually was with broken bales of hay and straw, was slippery as the boy found it difficult to find his footing as he grabbed the rungs of the ladder up to where the straw was piled high in the air. The light above would periodically flicker and leave Patrick in the dark. His heart would flutter as he counted the seconds until it came back on.

Finally, Patrick managed to crest the top bale of hay and he rushed into action. He ran as fast as he could to the loft, which housed the straw where he took two bales at a time; a feat at his age.

Patrick dragged the bales to the lip of the hole and sent them crashing over. He quickly ran back and retrieved two more to throw over to the other side. As he pulled the last from its resting place however, he heard the rain begin to patter on the steel roof above. The wind, not having let up for several hours, tore at the walls and howled menacingly like a dragon laying waste to a medieval town.

The last straw bale teetered over the edge as Patrick stopped in his tracks. The easy part was over. Looking up at the light bulb, so far above the hay that he could barely recognize it, Patrick felt the wind eating through the steel trying to reach for him. I can do this. It’ll be easy.

With a determined grunt, Patrick shook his head and balled his hands into fists. He raced off to the end of the mow, passing the first grain box on his way to the last, ill-lit portion where the hay was piled. With a quick motion, making sure not to look towards the second grain bin, he heaved on a string to pull the bale away from its current position.

With a great snap, the string broke and Patrick went flying backwards, sprawling on his back. As he landed, he bit his lip to stem the scream that had almost slipped out. He jumped up immediately and brushed grain dust from his pants. The realization of where he was tightened around his heart like a man crushing a fruit.

His first step was cautious as he slowly walked off the decrepit ceiling of the grain bin. His second step was much quicker, fuelled by his imagination of what he had awakened with his careless ruckus. Quickly collecting another bale, one that didn’t have a broken string, the boy half carried, half dragged the heavy bale to ledge to shove it over the chute. The bale bounced, fell, and then stopped , lodged short of the hole that would take it to the barn floor.

His heart still pounding, Patrick didn’t take the time to look around. His quick motions took him to the wall as he was climbed down the side strapping. He came to the bottom of the hole and looked around. Hay surrounded him on three sides. On the fourth was a wooden alcove built to allow the bales to fall down below. Bales were piled above that leaving Patrick in a cell four feet square, encased in hay.

As Patrick took stock of his position, he realized his bale was lodge on top of the wooden cover that blocked the cold air of the mow from escaping below where the mother cows and their young ones lounges. I should have known, he thought as he positioned himself to pull the bale away from the opening so he could shift the wooden cover. He waited a few seconds before yelling, “Look out below,” and then tossed the bale through the hole where he saw it bounce off towards the cows.

Patrick lingered for a few seconds, listening to the vacuum of the milking machine below, realizing he had to climb back up the wall so he could escape the dark mow and the monsters lurking in the shadows.

Patrick reset the wood into hole and pulled himself up the wall five feet and braced his back against the hay. It was always a struggle to climb out of the hole, his feet losing purchase causing him to fall back into the hole. More often than he cared his hands would slip on the wet wood as the rain sprayed in through the steel door above.

What? Patrick froze as his worst fear came true. He one hand on the wall, his other reaching for the bale of hay that would pull him out of the hole. In less than a second he would have gained his freedom so he could escape the mow. Unfortunately the light flickered again and then went out, leaving him in complete darkness, the wind howling around him like a banshee.

“Hey, who’s there?” Patrick called out. Though he could feel the prickly hay shoots on his fingers, he couldn’t see beyond his nose far enough to grab the edge of the bale. I can do this.

There was only one thing that Patrick was afraid of. It wasn’t the haymow. He could come up during the day with no issues, but at night, when there was no light to guide his way, Patrick was terrified. Now, with the only light snuffed out, his body began to shake as he clenched his teeth. They couldn’t have left already. His father hadn’t come back to the barn yet and Patrick could still hear the milking machine screaming below.

I can do this, Patrick thought as he leaned forward, his hand scratching at the bale. Without the light, he couldn’t gauge the distance required and he wasn’t sure whether he’d make it. He was forced to release his grip on the wall so he could lean further out.

As he let go of his white knuckled grasp, Patrick felt his world give out. He whimpered as his footing gave way and he plummeted back down the hole and fell hard against his back, his head clipping the side of the frame surrounding the access.

If the light had been on, Patrick would have noticed that he blacked out. Instead, he didn’t notice as he looked up, stars floating in his vision. “Hel … help.” His voice was barely a whisper.

“I am coming for you Patrick,” the voice grumbled. It was a dark voice, low and husky, that spoke of evil intentions. “There’s no one going to help you.”

“Who was that?” Patrick blurted out as he blinked away the tears and stars.

Patrick felt the fetid breath on his ears as the monster spoke directly to him for the first time. This isn’t real. This isn’t real.

Patrick had been coming to the barn for years. It had always been his duty to get the hay and straw for the calves as his mother milked, father cleaned and brother fed the older cattle.

Ever since the first day that he’d been assigned to the haymow, Patrick had been terrified. It represented something at night, a dark anger that Patrick couldn’t escape; a monster lurking in the shadows.

“You aren’t real,” Patrick whispered as he opened his eyes. Still dark.

            “I am real and I am coming for you.” The guttural voice was pulled from Patrick’s worst nightmare.

Patrick pushed himself off the floor and turned to peer into the darkness. With the cover over the hole in the floor no one would hear him. They would likely think the dull thud of his body falling was just another bale being thrown down for the following night. No, it doesn’t matter. You aren’t real.

As Patrick moved, the light above flickered on, revealing a hazy light, but nothing hiding within the shadows. You weren’t real. Just my imagination. He stood with his chest heaving as he searched above.

Patrick’s hands shook as he tried to pull himself up the wall. His mind was filled with visions of furry arms clawing their way out of the grain bin where he’d fallen earlier when the string broke on the bale. Maybe I woke it up, he thought. If it was real, the grain bins were the only place it could hide during the day. The grain bins were bathed in perpetual darkness where a beast could hide in the indefinitely, only moving from one to the other when someone descended into one with a flashlight.

NO, it’s not real, Patrick thought as he reached the top of the bales. He was old enough to realize there was no such thing as monsters. There was no beast lurking in the shadows trying to hunt his soul or steal his blood.

The light flickered again as Patrick crested the ledge. As soon as he pulled himself over, he scrambled to his feet and set off for the stairs leading out of the loft. Whether the beast was real or not, Patrick refused to be in the hay loft any longer.

Patrick’s trip was swift as he jumped down the ledge towards the stairs. He didn’t care that his lungs were burning or that his head was bleeding where he’d hit.

As soon as Patrick’s hand grasped the door he realized it was held tight from below. What now? he thought as bunched his legs to pull on the door. OPEN, he screamed silently.

The door obeyed on his second attempt and finally he slipped through and slid down the stairs on his behind. Once there, Patrick sat heavily, his chest heaving as he closed his eyes to force the tears away.

“Oh, the look on your face,” the voice broke Patrick’s reverie. Startled, Patrick looked up to see his brother, Derrick, leaning against the stone wall cackling and slapping the wall with his hand. “Oh this is priceless.”

Priceless? Patrick thought. He’d gone through hell to get the hay and it was because of his brother. Derrick had been the one to shut the lights off. You … you…

            “Patrick,” Patrick’s father called from down the alley. He held a shovel his hand, tapping the handle on the roof above.

“Yes, Father,” Patrick called out as he clenched his teeth. He wanted nothing more than to turn on his brother and start hitting him.

“I need you to go back upstairs and shovel the grain in.”

The words were like a death sentence. Shovel the grain in? Shovelling the grain in would require him to descend into the bin itself. No, no, no.

“Hurry up Patrick. We don’t have all night,” Patrick’s father said. He dropped the shovel to the floor and stood with his hand on his hips.

“Father, I’ve already gone up once. Maybe Derrick could go,” Patrick said as he took a step away from the stairs. “I can help you bed the pens.”

“No, Patrick. I asked you to go so go.”

“Ya Patrick, go,” Derrick mimicked as he mimed flicking the secondary light switch for the loft.

Returning to the haymow would have been bad enough, but being forced to shovel the grain down the hole would mean his death. The bins were terrible dens of evil no one should enter in the daylight let alone in the dark when the night was blustery. I can’t go up there.

            Patrick opened his mouth as if to speak to his father, but fell silent as he recognized the look on the man’s face. He had no choice in the matter.

Patrick balled his fists as he turned and climbed back into the mow. His steps were sluggish as he returned to the mow, his brother’s snickering chasing him all the way.

Stars returned to his vision as Patrick inched his way towards the bin, his ears burning. You’re not real. It was just Derrick turning off the light. It was possible that Derrick had even climbed up the steps and whispered to him in the darkness. Ya that must be it.

Patrick reached the bin as tears streamed down his face. His hands shook from contained emotions as he reached out to grab the ladder. There’s nothing there, he thought as he heard his father pounding on the floor in an attempt to release more grain down the funnel.

Patrick stared into the darkness for several seconds until the thundering crashes emanating from below became louder. I have no choice, he thought and climbed out over the ledge and then descended into the bin, his skin crawling with every step.

As Patrick reached the floor, the light from above barely a memory. I have to find the shovel, he thought as he reached into the darkness. With every second he spent searching he knew it was another second the beast had to find him. He must be in the other bin, Patrick thought. He’d be eaten already if the beast had been lurking in the bin he was scraping down.

When Patrick found the shovel his body was wracked in uncontrollable sobs. He knew he was going to be eaten within seconds and no one was going to save him. The beast from his nightmares was going to pounce on him and tear his flesh from his bones. His family would return to the house and never know that he was gone. They would wake in the morning and wonder how he’d managed to get off to school without them noticing.

“You aren’t real. You aren’t real,” Patrick whispered as he grabbed hold of the shovel and frantically scraped the grain towards the funnel. Down the spout it went, draining into the cart his father kept below, throwing dust in the air in the process.

Patrick stifled a cough as he scraped the grain down, refusing to make a sound as he finished his work. He wasn’t going to wake the beast if it had returned to its slumber in the other bin. Maybe it thought I was gone and went back to sleep.

Patrick waited in silence for almost a minute until he was sure his father was finished with the grain before he returned to the ladder. As if by magic, he propelled himself up the ladder four rungs at a time. When he breached the lid, he jumped out of the bin and rolled onto the hay where he lay for a second. When he stood, he could feel a chill as the sweat drenching his body began to cool in the frigid air..

“What was that?” he called out as a piece of siding steel began to flap against the wall from repeated wind gusts.

“I’m coming for you,” the whisper set Patrick in motion as a scream erupted from his mouth.

His vision was blurred as he felt himself tripped on the hay. Down he went, his bare skin scraped up by the beast’s out-flung claws. Have to get away, he thought as he rolled away from where he assumed the invisible monster stood.

Patrick wasn’t sure whether it was luck or divine intervention, but as he rolled, he felt his legs and then his body careen over the edge of the hole where the stairs led down to the main floor. I made it, he thought as he crashed onto a broken bale and rolled to a stop.

Without waiting, Patrick slipped down the stairs and threw his hand behind him to push the door latch aside. The door crashed down on his shoulder as he toppled over the edge of the stairs and crashed onto the concrete floor.

Patrick was sobbing when his mother found him. Unable to speak, he pointed to his wounds and then towards the floor above. He did it. It’s real, he thought as he tried to wipe blood and sweat from his eyes.

“It’s ok hon. You just fell. Everything’s ok,” Patrick’s mother said softly as she wiped the dust from Patrick’s face.

“Eh,” Patrick’s father asked as he pushed the cart by. “What’s his problem?”

Patrick’s mother smiled and shook her head as she said, “Nothing. Patrick just fell. He needs some rest.” She turned back to Patrick as she said, “Why don’t you go to the house now Patrick?”

Patrick nodded as his sobs subsided. Safety. Freedom.

Patrick’s steps were tentative at first, but stronger as he made his way to the milkhouse. He ignored the kittens as he focused on the door out into the night. One last push, he thought.

As soon as Patrick reached the door he felt a hand on his shoulder. He cried out as he hand squeezed tighter. “What?” he asked and rounded on his brother. The grin had faded from Derrick’s face.

Before Derrick could say anything, their father called out to him “Derrick, can you go upstairs and sweep in the other bin please?”

Patrick felt his brother stiffen as the boy looked up at the ceiling, a look of horror on his face. He looked like he was going to speak, but fell silent as their father urged him on with the same glare he’d given Patrick not ten minutes earlier.

Patrick’s experience had been terrifying. He wanted nothing more than to slip out of the barn and race up to the house. The look on his brother’s face however left him vibrating as Derrick realized Patrick wasn’t going to return to the mow. You know there’s something up there, Patrick thought as Derrick’s grasp on him fell away.

Patrick shivered once more and took off from the barn, rushing through the milkhouse and into the dark miserable night. He wasted no time as he bounded up the hill and crashed through the door into the house.